We’re Very Different But Quite Similar

I’m frequently asked by executives if I see commonalities among the narrative 360 feedback results for my clients at top leadership levels in other organizations. This typically occurs when I’m just beginning a project, and there’s real curiosity about how their peers are “showing up.” My response, until recently, was that I didn’t think there was much commonality given that my clients are typically working in various sectors, in distinct organizations with diverse leadership teams. In addition, I see varying personalities, contrasting leadership styles and unique motivations.

You’d expect, as I did with this diversity, that patterns of similarity would be hard to discern, let alone confirm. However, after reflecting on summary results over the course of the past four years, I’ve come to recognize a few key themes that resonate across senior-level leaders. While my observations are certainly more qualitative than quantitative, I think there’s merit in considering the implications of these within the broader context of successful leadership.

Here are five themes, common to senior-level leaders, that resonate across differing sectors, businesses and executive teams:

  1. targetDevelop a distinctive, compelling yet realistic vision
    The importance of vision emerges consistently time and again within executive feedback. Some organizations are absolutely craving their top leadership to develop a clear, distinctive and compelling vision that engages employees as well as external stakeholders. Others, however, find themselves with a compelling vision but lack either the skills or mechanisms to clearly translate that lofty vision into meaningful strategies and actions that deliver results and ensure success.
  2. Articulate a clear focus and set of top priorities
    In today’s rapidly changing marketplace, what was once a challenging task is becoming even more important for executives. Staff need to know what’s most important and where they should focus their time, attention and efforts. The tendency to create multiple “key priorities” is demoralizing and a surefire way to ineffectiveness. Senior leaders must be clear on the “big ticket” priorities for the organization – ideally no more than a handful. Anything more creates confusion and dissipates energy and resources.
  3. Strike the right balance between strategic and operational involvement
    This balance of attention and action between the big picture and tactical issues is always changing, depending on context. Senior leaders in a new role, for example, will want to spend more time on the operational side of things while getting to know the business. Crises that emerge, particularly those with external audiences, may also require direct time and attention. Whenever possible, however, senior leaders need to leave operations with their teams and avoid the tendency to jump into more tactical issues, challenges and opportunities.
  4. leader running meetingStay mindful of internal operations while focusing on the external business
    Depending on personality, leadership style and motivation, senior leaders seem to demonstrate a preference for either greater internal focus or, conversely, more external emphasis. Taken to the extreme, the highly externally focused executive tends to place less time and effort on addressing key factors that ensure the organization is running smoothly. And this internal focus can’t be delegated, it requires active presence and engagement. On the other side, more internally focused leaders tend to lose traction with external stakeholders and constituents, which can be detrimental to brand profile, market intelligence and stakeholder/investor relations. Excessive internal focus can also be detrimental to direct reports who are trying to ensure things within their portfolios are going well.
  5. Ensure key decisions and relevant messaging are shared with those who matter
    While the majority of executives I’ve encountered have a robust repertoire of communication skills, the ability to keep those who must know in the loop on key decisions and relevant messaging is often challenging. This isn’t usually intentional, however, the demands and pace of the workplace often preclude thoughtful reflection on who else needs to be informed and engaged. Decisions made in conjunction with some team members may need to be shared with others on the team. Key messages provided to some stakeholders may be essential for the information and engagement of other constituents.

To find out more about how narrative 360 feedback can benefit executives in your organization, contact me today (scott@cygnusconsultants.com or 250-882-8830).

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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  1. Well said Scott. Having plied my trade across both private and public sector I would whole heartedly agree. Further I would hazard that #5 is the one I have seen most often ignored or implemented poorly.

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